Design Methods for Justice

How can groups create & validate better justice innovations?

These readings describe design methodologies that can better identify promising interventions, and that can validate these proposed initiatives before they are deployed in pilots or broader implementations. These aim to direct scarce resources to more promising and impactful solutions, that have a higher chance of increasing access to justice.

Redesigning Justice Innovation: A Standardized Methodology

Bernal, Daniel W, and Margaret D Hagan. “Redesigning Justice Innovation: A Standardized Methodology.” Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties XVI, no. 2 (June 2020): 335–84.

This paper proposes the use of a human-centered legal design process to create better possible interventions for civil justice reform. It identifies how this process can be carried out so that the strongest possible intervention is then piloted and evaluated during randomized control trials or other evaluations.

Human-Centered Civil Justice Design

Victor Quintanilla, 121 Penn State Law Review 745 (2017)

Quintanilla’s 2017 paper lays out how design can be used by stakeholders in the civil justice system to reform the services, technology, and system — particularly to improve accessibility to members of the public.

It connects design with the outcome of procedural justice — and how using empathetic, participatory, user-centered methods can lead to new reforms and interventions that are more likely to be used by litigants, make them feel more dignity, and increase their justice outcomes.

The paper also points to this design process as a way to move courts to a more empathetic, human-centered culture.

Charles L Owen, Ronald W. Staudt & Edward B. Pedwell, Access to Justice: Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants (2001), Centers/CAJT/access-to-justice-meeting-the-needs.pdf

Margaret Hagan, Participatory Design for Innovation in Access to Justice, Winter Daedalus (2019), (last visited Jan 24, 2019).

Margaret Hagan, Legal Design as a Thing: A Theory of Change and a Set of Methods to Craft a Human-Centered Legal System, 36 Des. Issues 3–15 (2020), (last visited Jul 10, 2020).

Margaret D Hagan, A Human-Centered Design Approach to Access to Justice Generating New Prototypes and Hypotheses for Intervention to Make Courts User-Friendly, 6 Indiana J. Law Soc. Equal. 199–239 (2018),

Shannon Salter & Darin Thompson, Public-centered Civil Justice Redesign, 3 McGill J. Dispute. Resolut. 113–136 (2016),

Lorne Sossin, Designing Administrative Justice, 25 SSRN (2017).

Dan Jackson, Human-Centered legal tech: Integrating design in legal education, 50 Law Teach. 82–97 (2016).

Emily Houh & Kristin (Brandser) Kalsem, It’s Critical: Legal Participatory Action Research, University of Cincinnati College of Law Scholarship and Publications (2013), (last visited Jun 29, 2017).

What works to increase access to justice?

What should an Access to Justice agenda be?

Civil Justice For all: A Report and Recommendations from the Making Justice Accessible Initiatives

American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Civil Justice for All: A Report and Recommendations from the Making Justice Accessible Initiative (2020),

This report recommends that civil justice be an urgent policy and funding priority. It outlines 7 key themes for improved access to justice.

  1. Increased Investment in this work
  2. Legal Services lawyers to help people with their problems
  3. Pro Bono Assistance to supplement dedicated legal services lawyers
  4. New Advocates that can supplement lawyers with other capacities and roles
  5. Greater Collaboration among legal professionals and other human service providers
  6. Simplification and Innovation of legal offerings, including the use of technology
  7. National Coordination among providers and others working in this space

Rhode, Deborah L. “Access to Justice: An Agenda for Legal Education and Research.”

Rickard, Erika J. “The Role of Law Schools in the 100% Access to Justice Movement.” Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality 6, no. 2 (2018): 240–66.

Celebrating the “Null” Finding: Evidence-Based
Strategies for Improving Access to Legal Services

Jeanne Charn, Celebrating the “Null” finding: Evidence-based strategies for improving access to legal services, 122 Yale Law J. 2206–2234 (2013).

Jeanne Charn critically examines whether a right-to-counsel movement is the answer to the access to justice crisis. She emphasizes that there needs to be lawyer-lite, self-help innovations along with investment in expanded access to lawyers.

She advocates a consumer-centered approach, that follows what people prefer in responding to their legal problems (which is not always using a full-representation lawyer).

These articles identify specific interventions, strategies, principles, and other guidance for effective access to justice interventions. In particular, these articles propose interventions that can increase engagement with the legal system, build legal capability, and increase justice outcomes.

Uptake of Legal Self-Help Resources: What Works, For Whom, and For What?

by Hugh M. McDonald, Suzie Forell & Zhigang Wei
 30 Justice Issues 1–36 (2019)

This paper used results from the Legal Australia-Wide (LAW) Survey to use a multilevel binary logistic regression model to test the independent influence of legal problems and demographic characteristics on the helpfulness of those resources. From this, the analysis reports findings on how self-help resources influenced individuals’ use of resources to prepare for legal issues, and disaggregates the use of self help resources by legal issues and demographic characteristics. The paper, overall, finds that respondents were just as likely to use self-help resources as they were to take no action at all.

The Justice is in the Details: Evaluating Different Self-Help Designs for Legal Capability in Traffic Court

by Margaret Hagan
Journal of Open Access to the Law: Vol. 7, No.1, October 17 (2019)

This paper presents different visual & technology prototypes that aim to help build legal capability among people who are navigating traffic court. It explains the design process that created these new proposed ways to deliver legal help, as well as the lab-based evaluation of these different interventions. Which should move forward — which are less valuable based on this lightweight testing? It finds that litigants want visual designs to guide them through the court process, and then supplement them with digital tools like text messaging and web guides to get ongoing engagement and follow-through.

A Design Space for Legal and Systems Capability: Interfaces for Self-Help in Complex Systems

by Margaret Hagan and F. Kursat Ozenc
36 Design Issues 61–81 (2020),

What are the best practices for guiding a person through a complex system, like the legal system?

This paper proposes a common framework that designers, technologists, and policymakers can use to create effective help.

This includes:

  • Understanding the user’s experience as a Justice Journey with a common arc of phases. You should find which part of the justice journey you are trying to affect, and choose the right pattern and messaging for that phase.
  • There are standard patterns of interfaces, tools, and visuals that people and experts agree are good fits for helping people in these different phases

J.J. Prescott, Assessing Access-to-Justice Outreach Strategies, 174 J. Institutional Theor. Econ. 34 (2018), (last visited Oct 8, 2020).

Logan Cornett et al., Redesigning Divorce: User-Driven Design for a Better Process (2019), (last visited Jul 7, 2020).

Richard Zorza, The Access to Justice Sorting Hat: Towards a System of Triage and Intake that Maximizes Access and Outcomes, 89 Denver U 859–886 (2012).

Margaret D Hagan, A Human-Centered Design Approach to Access to Justice Generating New Prototypes and Hypotheses for Intervention to Make Courts User-Friendly, 6 Indiana J. Law Soc. Equal. 199–239 (2018),

Margaret Hagan & Miso Kim, Design for dignity and procedural justice, 585 in AFHE 2017: Advances in Affective and Pleasurable Design 135–145 (W. Chung ed., 2018), (last visited Sep 23, 2018).

Charles L Owen, Ronald W. Staudt & Edward B. Pedwell, Access to Justice: Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants (2001),

John M. Greacen, Resources to Assist Self-Represented Litigations: A Fifty-State Review of the “State of the Art” 1–54 (2011).

Richard Zorza, Some First Thoughts on Court Simplification: The Key to Civil Access and Justice Transformation, 61 Drake Law Rev. 845–881 (2013).

How can legal websites best help people?

Seeking Legal Help Online: Understanding the Missing Majority

By Jo Szczepanska and Emma Blomkamp, Justice Connect, November 2020, Australia

This report focuses on finding new models of providing cost-efficient and effective free legal assistance at scale for the ‘missing majority’, a redubbing of an Australian term to refer to the growing cohort of people in the ‘justice gap’ that is having difficulty accessing a lawyer, free public or community assistance. The report presents a series of recommendations and design principles tailored for five main areas:

  • Invest in information design and user experience
  • Involve people with lived experience in making online resources
  • Break down silos between sectors, organizations, communities, and self-help 
  • Establish communities of practice to support makers of online self-help resources
  • Invest in consumer outreach, search engine optimization, communications, and marketing

Margaret Hagan, The User Experience of the Internet as a Legal Help Service: Defining standards for the next generation of user-friendly online legal services, 20 Va. JL Tech. 395–465 (2016),

Michigan Advocacy Program & Graphic Advocacy Project, Build a better _______: Strategies for user-informed legal design (2021).

Statewide Website Assessment

Legal Services Corporation, Statewide Website Assessment public report (2017),

This report from Legal Services Corporation lays out benchmark standards for good legal help websites. This includes sites that have improved:

  • Content, with plain language and language access and good presentation
  • Accessibility, user support, mobile-friendliness, and community engagement
  • User-friendly navigation and visual presentation

Catrina Denvir, Nigel J. Balmer & Pascoe Pleasence, Surfing the web – Recreation or resource? Exploring how young people in the UK use the Internet as an advice portal for problems with a legal dimension, 23 Interact. Comput. 96–104 (2011), (last visited Mar 22, 2014).

Catrina Denvir, Online and in the know? Public legal education, young people and the Internet, 92–93 Comput. Educ. 204–220 (2016), (last visited Jun 25, 2019).

Catrina Denvir, Nigel J. Balmer & Pascoe Pleasence, Portal or pot hole? Exploring how older people use the ‘information superhighway’ for advice relating to problems with a legal dimension, 34 Ageing Soc. 670–699 (2012), (last visited Jul 21, 2014).

Crowdsourcing legal help & online access to legal tools

CB Robertson, The Facebook Disruption: How Social Media May Transform Civil Litigation and Facilitate Access to Justice, 65 Ark. L. Rev. 75 (2012),

This article points to the effect that social media can have on access to justice. As more people go online with their life & legal problem-solving, there can be new justice journeys & access to solutions. This includes solutions built on:

  • crowdsourced legal advice on social media platforms like Facebook
  • informal discovery, gathering evidence and data using online platforms to track communications & status
  • connecting people with automated document assembly & other software products for doing legal tasks
  • connecting people with global outsourcing & ghostwriting for their legal tasks

(And, what are ways that technology can go wrong — that groups should avoid)

Rebecca L Sandefur, Legal Tech for Non-Lawyers: Report of the Survey of US Legal Technologies (2019), (last visited Jan 10, 2020).

James E Cabral et al., Using Technology to Enhance Access to Justice, 26 Harv. J. Law Technol. (2012).

John M. Greacen, Eighteen Ways Courts Should use Technology to Better Serve Their Customers, 57 Fam. Court Rev. 515–538 (2019), (last visited Dec 19, 2018).

Ronald W. Staudt, All the Wild Possibilities: Technology That Attacks Barriers to Access to Justice, 42 Loy. LAL Rev. (2008),

Phil Malone et al., Preliminary Report Best Practices in the Use of Technology to Facilitate Access to Justice Initiatives (2010),

The Engine Room, Technology for Legal Empowerment: A Global Review (2019), . (last visited Jul 3, 2019).

Jason Tashea, Justice-as-a-Platform, MIT Computational Law Report (2021), (last visited Jun 15, 2022).

Vincent Morris, Navigating Justice: Self-Help Resources, Access To Justice, and Whose Job Is It Anyway ?, 82 Supra 161–181 (2013).

Court Compass: Existing Programs, (2017),

Chris Johnson, Leveraging Technology to Deliver Legal Services, 23 Harv. JL Tech. (2009),

Ronald W Staudt, Technology for Justice Customers : Bridging the Digital Divide Facing Self-Represented Litigants, 5 Univ. Maryl. Law J. Race, Relig. Gend. Cl. 71–94 (2005).

WIlliam E. Hornsby, Jr., Gaming the System: Approaching 100% Access to Legal Services through Online Games, 1 (2014).

Self-represented efiling: surveying the accessible implementations National Center for State Courts, (2022), (last visited Jun 14, 2022).

How to promote participation, and reduce default rates, in the justice system?

Daniel Bernal, Taking the Court to the People: Real-World Solutions for Nonappearance, 59 Ariz. Law Rev. 547–571 (2017), (last visited Sep 18, 2017).

Alissa Fishbane, Aurelie Ouss & Anuj K. Shah, Behavioral nudges reduce failure to appear for court, 370 Science (80). (2020), (last visited Nov 24, 2020).

Brice Cooke et al., Using Behavioral Science to Improve Criminal Justice Outcomes: Preventing Failures to Appear in Court, IDEAS 42 Policy Pap. 1–20 (2018), (last visited Aug 10, 2021).

Direct Mail Messaging Strategies for Improving Debt Collection Hearing Court Appearance Rates

Harvard Law School Access to Justice Lab, Center on the Legal Profession

This memo outlines effective ways to use paper mailing to encourage litigants’ participation in their court case. This includes having improved content, cartoons, bold headings, action plans, and letter sequences that improve timely engagement.

D James Greiner, Dalie Jimenez & Lois R Lupica, Self-Help, Reimagined, 92 Indiana Law J. 1119–1173 (2017),

Timothy R Schnacke, Michael R Jones & Dorian M Wilderman, Increasing Court-Appearance Rates and Other Benefits of Live-Caller Telephone Court-Date Reminders : The Jefferson County, Colorado, FTA Pilot Project and Resulting Court Date Notification Program, 48 86–95 (2005), (last visited Sep 8, 2019).

Court & Judge Reforms to increase access to justice

Shanahan, Colleen F, Jessica Steinberg, Alyx Mark, and Anna E Carpenter. “The Institutional Mismatch of State Civil Courts.” Columbia Law Review, 2022.

Carpenter, Anna E, Jessica K Steinberg, Colleen F Shanahan, and Alyx Mark. “Studying the ‘New’ Civil Judges.Wisconsin Law Review, 2018.

Shanahan, Colleen F. “The Keys to the Kingdom: Judges, Pre-Hearing Procedure, and Access to Justice.Wisconsin Law Review, 2018, 215–48.

Regulatory Reforms to increase access to justice

Hadfield, Gillian K., and Deborah L. Rhode. “How to Regulate Legal Services to Promote Access, Innovation, and the Quality of Lawyering.” In Hastings Law Journal, 67:1191–1223, 2016.

Engstrom, David Freeman, Lucy Ricca, Graham Ambrose, and Maddie Walsh September. “Legal Innovation After Reform: Evidence From Regulatory Change.” Stanford, CA, September 2022.

The Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform. “Narrowing the Access-to-Justice Gap by Reimagining Regulation Report and Recommendations.” Salt Lake City, UT, 2019.

Steinberg, Jessica K, Anna E Carpenter, Colleen F Shanahan, and Alyx Mark. “Judges and the Deregulation of the Legal Monopoly.” Fordham Law Review 89, no. 4 (2021): 1315–49.].

Hadfield, Gillian K. “Innovating to Improve Access: Changing the Way Courts Regulate Legal Markets,” no. 14 (2014).

Campbell, RW. “Rethinking Regulation and Innovation in the U.S. Legal Services Market.NYUJL & Bus. 9, no. 1 (2012): 1–70.

Clarke, Thomas, and Rebecca L. Sandefur. “Preliminary Evaluation of the Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Program.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2018.

Evaluating Outcomes

How do we evaluate which justice innovations are successful?

These articles lay out instruments and metrics by which groups can evaluate the impact of justice innovations. Do they work as intended? What are the best methods to use to determine if they are successful?

D James Greiner, The new legal empiricism & its application to access-to-justice inquiries, 148 Daedalus 64–74 (2019), (last visited May 3, 2019).

Hugh McDonald, Assessing access to justice: How much “legal” do people need and how can we know?, 11 UC Irvine Law Rev. 693–752 (2021), (last visited Sep 13, 2021).

Dalié Jiménez et al., Improving the Lives of Individuals in Financial Distress Using a Randomized Control Trial: A Research and Clinical Approach, XX Georg. J. Poverty Law {&} Policy 449–477 (2013), (last visited Jun 13, 2022).

D. James Greiner & Andrea Matthews, Randomized Control Trials in the United States Legal Profession, 12 Annu. Rev. Law Soc. Sci. 295–312 (2016), (last visited Nov 22, 2018).

Richard Moorhead, RCTs in civil justice: Greiner and Pattanyak, Lawyer Watch (2012), (last visited Nov 22, 2018).

OECD and Open Society Foundations, Understanding Effective Access to Justice, Underst. Eff. Access to Justice 30 (2016), (last visited Nov 22, 2018).

J.J. Prescott, Assessing Access-to-Justice Outreach Strategies, 174 J. Institutional Theor. Econ. 34 (2018), (last visited Oct 8, 2020).

Tom R. Tyler, Procedural Justice and the Courts, 44 Court Rev. J. Am. Judges Assoc. 26–31 (2007),

Martin Gramatikov, Methodological Challenges in Measuring Cost and Quality of Access to Justice: TISCO Working Paper Series on Civil Law and Conflict Resolution Systems (2007), (last visited May 5, 2018).

National Center for State Courts & Conference of Chief Justices, Civil Justice Initiative: Performance Measures for Civil Justice (2017), (last visited Apr 14, 2019).

Understanding People’s Justice Needs and Experiences

Understanding Effective Access to Justice working paper

The OECD and Open Society Justice Initiative published a working paper in November 2016 in the run-up to an expert workshop in Paris.

The paper lays out three key areas of knowledge and research questions:

  1. What is the unmet legal and justice needs? How can we measure this justice gap, and understand the legal needs?
  2. What impact do unmet legal needs have on people, the community, and the government?
  3. What models of legal help can be effective in meeting these legal needs?

What are their main needs? And what does ‘access to justice mean?

Justice Needs and Satisfaction in the United States of America 2021: Legal problems in daily life

The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law & The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, Justice Needs and Satisfaction in the United States of America (2021),

This report reports on a wide-ranging survey of Americans about what justice problems they have, what help they have used, what sources of information and advice they sought out, and what the procedural and substantive outcomes were.

Katherine S Wallat, Reconceptualizing Access to Justice, 103 Marquette Law Rev. (2019), (last visited Feb 24, 2021).

Tanina Rostain, Techno-optimism & access to the legal system, 148 Daedalus 93–97 (2019), (last visited Apr 24, 2019).

Why the “Haves” Come out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change

Marc Galanter, Law & Society ReviewVol. 9, No. 1, Litigation and Dispute Processing: Part One (Autumn, 1974), pp. 95-160 (66 pages)

Galanter’s article explores the game-like setup of court.

Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel J Balmer & Rebecca L Sandefur, Paths to Justice: A past, present and future roadmap (2013).

Rebecca L Sandefur, Access to what?, 148 Daedalus 49–55 (2019).

Lisa Wintersteiger, Legal Needs, Legal Capability and the Role of Public Legal Education, Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education (2015).

Rebecca L Sandefur, What We Know and Need to Know About the Legal Needs of the Public, 67 S. C. Law Rev. 443–459 (2016).

A framework for how justice problems interact with health ones, from their article

Justice & the Capability to Function in Society

Pascoe Pleasence & Nigel J. Balmer, Justice & the capability to function in society, 148 Daedalus 140 (2019),

Pleasance & Balmer summarize legal needs research that focuses on the bottom-up study of how people deal with legal-life problems, what effects these have on people, & what opportunities there are to improve people’s empowerment and capability.

They point to policies that could help build capability, improve outreach, get more preventative interventions, join up services, and matching services to people’s capability.

Legal Services Corporation, The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans (2017), .

Legal Services Corporation, Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans.An Updated Report of the Legal Services Corporation (2009).

The State Bar of California, 2019 California Justice Gap Study (2019), (last visited Apr 27, 2021).

Victor Quintanilla & Rachel Thein, Indiana Civil Legal Needs Study and Legal Aid System Scan (2019), (last visited May 10, 2019).

Strengthening Access to Civil Justice with Legal Needs Surveys, (last visited Nov 3, 2018).

Christine Coumarelos et al., Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal Need in Australia: Access to justice and legal needs (2012).

Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel J Balmer & Rebecca L Sandefur, Paths to Justice: A past, present and future roadmap (2013).

How people currently go through justice journeys — and what problems they experience

Barbara Bezdek, Silence in the court: participation and subordination of poor tenants’ voices in legal process, 20 20 Hofstra L. Rev. 533 533–608 (1992), (last visited Mar 12, 2020).

Utah Bar Foundation, Utah Bar Foundation Report on Debt Collection and Utah’s Courts (2022), (last visited Jun 9, 2022).

Ellen Degnan et al., Trapped in Marriage, SSRN Electron. J. (2018), (last visited Jun 14, 2022).

NCSC, Civil Justice Initiative: The Landscape of Civil Litigation in State Courts (2015),

Equitable Access to Justice

What are the best ways to get access for people from different demographic groups?

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Language Access in State Courts, SSRN (2016), (last visited Sep 27, 2018).

State Justice Institute & National Center for State Courts, A National Call to Action Access to Justice for Limited English Proficient Litigants: Creating Solutions to Language Barriers in State Courts (2013), (last visited Sep 23, 2018).

Natasha N. Jones & Miriam F. Williams, The Social Justice Impact of Plain Language : A Critical Approach to Plain-Language Analysis, 60 IEEEE Trans. Prof. Commun. 1–18 (2017).

The Working Party & Amanda Finlay, Preventing Digital Exclusion from Online Justice (2018),

Sara Sternberg Greene, Race, Class, and Access to Civil Justice, 101 Iowa Law Rev. 1263 (2016), (last visited Feb 24, 2021).

Sheila O’Hare & Sanda Erdelez, Legal information acquisition by the public: The role of personal and environmental factors, 54 Proc. Assoc. Inf. Sci. Technol. 298–307 (2017).

New Court Models, or Alternatives to Courts

Interventions to make courts more accessible

Richard Zorza, The Self-Help Friendly Court: Designed from the Ground Up to Work for People Without Lawyers (2002).

Colleen F. Shanahan, The Keys to the Kingdom: Judges, Pre-Hearing Procedure, and Access to Justice, Wis. L. Rev. 215–248 (2018).

Jessica K Steinberg, A Theory of Civil Problem Solving Courts, 93 NYU Law Rev. (2018), (last visited Nov 7, 2019).

Jessica K Steinberg, Informal, Inquisitorial, and Accurate: An Empirical Look at a Problem-Solving Housing Court, 42 Law Soc. Inq. 1058–1090 (2017).

Jessica Steinberg, Demand Side Reform in the Poor People’s Court, 47 Conn. Law Rev. 741 (2015),

New models for dispute resolution systems

Ayelet Sela, Streamlining Justice: How Online Courts Can Resolve the Challenges of Pro Se Litigation, Cornell J. Law Public Policy (2016), (last visited May 2, 2019).

John Graecen, Serving Self-Represented Litigants Remotely: A Resource Guide (2016).

James J Prescott, Improving Access to Justice in State Courts with Platform Technology, 70 Vand. L. Rev (2017),

Analysis of State Courts’ role in problem-solving

The Institutional Mismatch of State Civil Courts

Colleen F Shanahan, Jessica Steinberg, Alyx Mark, and Anna E. Carpenter, The Institutional Mismatch of State Civil Courts, Columbia Law Rev. (2022),] (last visited Jul 5, 2022).

This article looks at case data and court observations to understand how courts deal with the social needs that people come to the civil justice system to deal with. The article posits that courts are making social policy, becoming social service providers, and rule-makers.

Other topics for exploration

  • How do people talk about their problems?
  • How do we measure different kinds of interventions?
  • What goes wrong with online searches and information brokers to legal help?
  • What do people want vs. what do experts think they need when it comes to legal help?
  • What are the barriers to more innovative offerings in legal help?
  • How can courts become more oriented to good social outcomes — like in evictions?
  • What are the main harms to consider with legal help & language access interventions?

MargaretReading List on Justice Innovation